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Why an Iowa Farmer Became a Campaign Stop for Candidates

Video Credit: The New Yorker
Published on January 22, 2020 - Duration: 05:42s

Why an Iowa Farmer Became a Campaign Stop for Candidates

Matt Russell, used the Democratic caucus to meet with nearly all the major Democratic candidates, speaks with the reporter Eric Lach about the election, agriculture, and climate change.

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Why an Iowa Farmer Became a Campaign Stop for Candidates

[pleasant bell tones][pleasant orchestral music]- In the caucus cycle,there was this huge opportunitywhere we could move some ofthe presidential candidatesand we would get some media attention.Not in my wildest dreamsdid I expect that we wouldmove all the candidates.- [Eric] I went to Coyote Run Farmto learn how an Iowa farmerwas able to take advantage ofmedia and candidate attentionto push action on climate change.[pleasant guitar music]Iowa is an agricultural state,and the farmer identity is very important,even to Iowans who aren'tfarmers themselves.- People like farmers,so we have a much biggerpolitical footprintthan we demographically should.When candidates engagethe farmer narrative,they're not just talking to farmers.They're really talking for abigger part of the community.- It's like rolling hill,small farm territoryand also just rural Iowa Iowa.I mean, you can tell why it's a placethat candidates have wanted a photo op.We weren't the firstto bring our camerasto Matt Russell's farm.- Nice to meet you.- Well, you're doingGod's work, they tell me.- Well, yeah, I'm a farmer.- It's become a kind of campaign stopwhere you get to tour thefarm and see the farmerbut you also get to talk about climateand Matt I think has done avery kind of savvy and smart jobof opening up his place andframing his conversationin a way that is attractive.[cows mooing][Eric chuckles]What's his name?- If it was a heifer,we'd probably name herbecause we'd keep her,but he's gonna be steak.[Eric chuckles][animal grunts][pleasant ambient music]For the most part,these candidates had almostno message for rural Iowa.There was no values statement,and what we've done is we'vehelped farmers articulatea value statement thatmeans something to them,and that is this is a problem,we need your help to solve it.- [Eric] Matt says that typically,there's three ways thatfarmers get talked toabout climate change.- One is climate skepticismheavily resourced byagribusiness and oil industries.The second one is you're causing this.You're the bad guys.- Right.- The third thing that'shappened more recentlyis the victimization.A lot of people assume thatit's because of all the floodingthat farmers are now victimized enoughthat they're on their kneesand they're like, okay, I am powerless.Again, not an effectiveplace to move people.So if you think about those three places,what we did is we founda way to talk to farmersin a new way.The solution to climate changeis farmers themselvesinnovating and leading.That, nobody has said that.That was our work.Change the narrativeso that farmers becomepart of the solution.[highlighter hissing]- [Eric] Matt advocates fora set of farming practicesknown as regenerative agriculture,which holds a promise ofcutting the carbon emissionsproduced by farming andeven pulling some carbonout of the atmosphere.Last year, in an op-ed for the Times,Matt called for thegovernment to pay farmersto adopt these practices.- You know, if we gotan acre of miscanthus--- What's miscanthus?- It's the giant tall grass.- Oh, yeah, okay.- I could sequesterabout six tons of carbon.- [Eric] After this article came out,Beto O'Rourke paid him a visit,and Matt got calls from othercandidates and campaigns.- Elizabeth Warren,Kamala Harris, Gillibrand,Booker, Yang, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden.- [Eric] Matt wasn't the only reasoncandidates started talkingabout paying farmersfor environmental services,but he was a part of it,and the ideas he supports traveled widely.- I'll enlist our farmersto be part of the climate solution,make it financially able for themto be on the front linesin carbon capture and sustainable farming.- American farming shouldbe one of the key pillarsof how we combat climate change.I believe that the questfor the carbon negative farmcould be as big a symbol ofdealing with climate changeas the electric car in this country.- What was it like seeing the debateswhen people broughtregenerative up at the debates?- It was incredible, it was incredible.To sit there, and then, I mean,my phone's blowing upbecause all the candidatesthat we worked with, they alltalked about farmers helpingto be part of the solution.- Yeah.- See, it is worthbringing farmers together.It is worth doing the political workof investing in farmers.[cow mooing]- One of the reasons that the candidateslike coming to Matt, like you saw,he's not a doom kind of person.He's solutions-oriented,and how much of a solution that isis probably up for debate,but he's saying theseare things we can do.This is where Americanpolitics makes room for ideas.Here is a person who hassuccessfully navigatedthat space to push some ideasthat he believes in strongly.In terms of a cost-benefit analysis,he's almost got more outof this caucus processthan Kamala Harris andJulian Castro combined.[chuckles] What's the calf's name?He's like, dude, thisis a steak on legs, man.We don't name him [laughs].[feet pattering][dog panting]- [Woman] Oh my God!

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